By JENELYN RUSSO     11/9/2021

On Oct. 23, with the seats filled to capacity inside Christ Cathedral, Bishop Vann presided over an ordination Mass that welcomed 13 new deacons into the Diocese of Orange. The first ceremony of its kind since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Mass was the culmination of a five-year formation journey for the candidates and their wives.

The Diocese of Orange Diaconate Class of 2021 and their wives include: Juan Carlos and Anita Castro, Manuel and Maria Espitia, Roberto and Lourdes Hernandez, Jeffrey and Tamie Kosidowski, Carlos and Ana Lozada, Alexander and Maritess Menez, Darrell and Kelly Miller, Bernie and Pamela Ocampo, Agustin and Antonia Olivare, Tao David and Dianne Phan, Thomas and Blanca Saenz, Eric and Alison Summerfield and Robert and Kathy Ward.

“A deacon takes the grace of the altar to the streets, and he brings the needs of the streets to the altar,” said Director Emeritus of the Office of the Diaconate for the Diocese of Orange, Deacon Frank Chavez, on the role of a deacon within the Catholic church.

The five-year formation journey consisting of academic and spiritual classes, spiritual growth, retreats and service projects occurred partially during quarantine, forcing the experience to move to an online format. Having to pivot may have been a challenge but produced several silver linings for the group.

“We were forced to learn in new ways and journey together in new ways,” said Deacon Tom Saenz. “We continued to learn and continued to serve and adapt. It was an experience that strengthened us all and prepared us to face new challenges as we head into this new ministry.”

At his home parish of St. Juliana Falconieri in Yorba Linda, Deacon Saenz has always had a heart to serve the poor and disadvantaged. As a third-generation Hispanic American, he and his wife Blanca feel this next step in their faith journey is where God wants them to be.

“It’s difficult to have the words to
describe the range of emotions that we experienced heading into it,” said Deacon Saenz. “The entire Mass was truly amazing in that everything affirmed our call.”

Deacon Eric Summerfield and his wife Alison call Santa Clara de Asis in Yorba Linda their home parish, and while they are in a life stage that includes four young children, the idea of beginning this next phase of serving couples and families has brought them peace.

“It truly was amazing how all of the doors we thought were going to be struggles seemed to continue to be opened by God,” said Deacon Summerfield.

Overwhelmed by the emotion of the Ordination Mass, Deacon Summerfield felt that the service was less of an acknowledgement of what they had accomplished and more of a celebration of what is to come.

“It was a beautiful way to highlight what we had done for the last five years, but even more so, it was a starting point or what we are called to do now,” said Deacon Summerfield.

Deacon Manuel Espitia from Our Lady of the Pillar in Santa Ana agreed with that sentiment.

“It was very emotional, and I was very nervous but also very excited,” said Deacon Espitia. “It’s not as if we are finishing something. We are actually just getting started. I think we all agreed that we [became] prepared to start something.”

Steeped in ritual and Catholic tradition, the ordination Mass included several points of symbolism, including the Promise of Obedience, the presentation of the diaconal vestments and Bishop Vann laying hands on each of the candidates. One of the more beautiful parts of the Mass was when the men laid on the ground in prostrate position, in complete surrender to God, as the choir sang the Litany of the Saints.

“It was such a powerful moment,” said Deacon Saenz. “All of that was an amazing experience that empowered us to move on.”

In recognition of the integral part the candidates’ wives play in the process, Deacon Chavez called the wives forward toward the conclusion of the Mass to acknowledge them and their vital contributions to the formation journey, as well as their role in the ministry. The congregation followed with a standing ovation.

“It was truly moving and beautiful to see our wonderful wives receive that acknowledgement and that honor,” said Deacon Saenz.

Each with their own strengths and interests, the newly ordained deacons felt the support from both the capacity crowd inside Christ Cathedral and the Catholic community as a whole as they move forward in response to the needs of their respective parishes and the greater community.

“For anyone who is looking into what the diaconate is all about and is willing to help our community and our church, this is one way to go,” said Deacon Espitia. “It was a challenging journey, but I would not change anything.”